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Project Background

In 1998, the ESRC funded Karen Henwood (then at the University of East Anglia) for a 17 month project entitled Masculinities, Identities and the Transition to Fatherhood (1999-2001). The aim of this project was to conduct a detailed qualitative investigation into men’s experiences of the transition to fatherhood and how they fashion, rework and negotiate their identities in the light of contemporary socio-cultural transformations in masculinity and fatherhood.

The study was designed as an in-depth, largely interview-based qualitative study into men’s experiences of the transition to first-time fatherhood, and involved three waves of data collection with 30 participants aged between 19 and 40 years. The first of these took place just before the birth of each man’s first child (when his partner was 6-7 months pregnant), the second when the baby was 2-3 months old, and third when the baby was 5-6 months old. The study generated a carefully crafted, qualitative longitudinal data set focussed around some critical turning points in men’s life histories (for example: pregnancy; birth; changes to daily routines, relationship with partner, and the balance between work and family life) and how they interpret significant biographical change. Findings from this project have shed light on how men fashion, negotiate and rework their identities as men and fathers in light of changing cultural constructions of masculinity and fatherhood and how embodied gender relations work through into men’s adult lives.

New ESRC funding under the Timescapes UK network has enabled the development of the transition to fatherhood project in terms of a more finely grained understanding of temporalities in the experiences of fathers over a time of intensive change in their lives. The empirical re-study of existing data will also provide a unique opportunity for long term follow-up of the original sample whose lives may have changed significantly since they were last interviewed nearly a decade ago. Building on the transitions to fatherhood data over a longer time-frame to include a further (fourth) wave of data collection with participants from the UEA study will enhance understanding of this major time of adult transition and its aftermath. This is not just in terms of understanding men’s life changes but also highlighting its possible implications for the people with whom the men share their life projects (for example, their children, spouses or significant others).